Summer is approaching and pretty soon we will all be working hard to beat the heat. This includes our feathered friends as well. Today we are going to discuss how chickens regulate their body temperature and some of the best ways we can help them deal with hot summer weather.
How Do Chickens Regulate Their Temperature?
Poultry cannot sweat so they rely on other methods to help regulate their temperature. Chickens actually have very warm natural body temperatures. The internal body temperature of a healthy, adult chicken is about 105oF. Chickens will use their feathers, breath, and even their blood to help regulate their body temperature.
The most common way for a chicken to regulate their body temperature is with their feathers. During cold weather, birds will fluff up their feathers and trap warm air against their 105oF bodies to help keep warm. In the summer, however, you may see your birds do the opposite. Their feathers will often stay sleek against their bodies or you may catch your birds standing in a nice breeze that ruffles their feathers and pulls any trapped heat away from their bodies.
Similar to your dog or cat, a chicken will also pant when it is hot. The technical term for panting is gular flutter and it is one of the most effective ways for poultry to cool themselves. The act of gular flutter evaporates warm moisture (remember their internal body temperature is HOT!) from the bird’s respiratory system to help keep them cool. Chickens also have large numbers of air sacs inside their body cavity. When a chicken inhales, it can push that cooler external air deep into their abdominal cavity. Since the external air is usually cooler than their internal 105oF body temperature, that cooler external air and the accompanying gular flutter can help dissipate lots of heat and help your chickens stay comfortable during the hot summer months.
Chickens will also use their blood to help cool themselves. Have you ever noticed that the combs and wattles on your chickens are usually bright red in the summer? Combs and wattles are highly vascularized and during warm weather chickens will engorge those blood vessels with warm blood. When a nice breeze or a cool mist runs over those engorged blood vessels, heat is pulled away from the chicken’s body in the process. This is call evaporative cooling.
How Can I Help Keep My Chickens Comfortable?
Now that we know how chickens regulate their body temperature, let’s talk about the best ways we can help them beat the heat this summer.
The very best way to help your chickens stay cool is lots and lots of fresh cool water. As noted above, gular flutter and breathing dissipate a large volume of moisture. It’s extremely important to replace that moisture with plenty of clean, cool drinking water. Generally, drinking water should be refreshed daily in the summertime. Once the temperature of the water exceeds the internal body temperature of the birds (105oF), the chickens won’t drink it. Make sure the water that you are putting out for your chickens is cool and clean. Water from the tap or a frost-free spigot are usually the best offering. If getting water from a garden hose or a rain barrel, make sure the water is cool to the touch. Hoses and rain barrels left in the sun can get very hot and you may need a cooler water source to help your chickens beat the heat. On very hot days, frozen water bottles added to your waterers can act as giant ice cubes and help keep water cooler for longer periods. Make sure your waterers are kept in a shady location – ideally inside the chicken coop – and are emptied and cleaned regularly to prevent algae growth.
Shade is also an extremely important factor to consider during the summer months. Your chickens will still love going outside in the summer. However, they should be able to get out of direct sunlight when the temperatures start to creep upward during the day. Shade trees, awnings, and tarps are great ways to provide plenty of shade for your birds. During most of the summer, I find that my birds are most active the same time that I am - early morning and later evening. Chickens love a good rest under a shady tree on a hot day just like you and I do!
Ventilation and breezes are also really important tools to help your chickens stay comfortable this summer. If you have electricity in your coop, a fan rated for barns and/or outdoor buildings is a great way to provide air flow. However, if you don’t have electricity in your chicken coop (like me!), proper ventilation can help supply refreshing summer breezes. Lots of ventilation is essential to keep air moving across your birds and allowing them to dissipate heat through evaporative cooling. Place windows and doors on your coop in a manner that allows natural breezes to flow through the coop. It’s also important to make sure the breezes are reaching the birds. Ventilation at the top of a coop may provide a great escape for rising warm air but unless the breeze can actually flow over the birds, that ventilation may provide little relief when it comes to regulating body temperature. Openings and windows close to the ground or the roosts are great tools to help summer breezes reach your birds.
Chickens are remarkably adaptable animals and can handle most seasonal changes very well. With just a few simple practices, we can help our chickens stay cool this summer. Cold water, nice shade, and a pleasant breeze are your best tools for helping your birds stay comfortable, healthy, and thriving all summer long!
Keeping poultry is such a wonderful experience and the rewards are many! At Kalmbach Feeds, we are always here to help. If you have any questions about the nutrient needs of your birds, feed options, or general poultry keeping, please let us know. We are so excited to continue writing about all of the topics that are important to you and can’t wait to continue learning about your flocks. Stay tuned and thank you for choosing Kalmbach Feeds!